Independent and neutral humanitarian action
Extract of keynote address by Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross given at the XXVIIIth Round Table on Current Problems of International Humanitarian Law, San Remo, 2 September 2004
As we are all well aware, a lack of respect for the law often leads to a lack of respect for humanitarian action. Threats and attacks deliberately targeting the ICRC – as well as other humanitarian organizations and their personnel – have raised questions about the ability of these organizations to fulfill their mandate and have generated debate concerning the future of humanitarian action.
The ICRC believes that the security of humanitarian action can best be fostered through increased respect for the rules of international humanitarian law and the rigorous preservation of space for independent and neutral humanitarian action. The preservation of this space also requires that States refrain from giving a humanitarian label to the activities of their armed forces, and from integrating humanitarian action with their political, military or economic response to crises. But in saying so, I am not overlooking the fact that there can be situations where humanitarian organizations are not in a position to carry out their activities, and humanitarian activity by the military might be necessary. But it must be proven – when giving humanitarian tasks to the military – that there are urgent needs requiring humanitarian action that humanitarian organizations are not in a position to meet.
The blurring of lines between military and humanitarian activities clearly adds to the security risks faced by humanitarian organizations. In the future, as now, the ICRC will continue to carry out independent and neutral humanitarian action in order to secure and maintain worldwide access to those adversely affected by armed conflict. Credible independence and neutrality offer the best likelihood of being accepted by all parties to a conflict, be it local, regional or global. Sustained dialogue with all ac tors involved in armed conflicts – however they may be qualified by the international community – is essential to the ICRC's security policy. The ICRC is aware of the fact that it is more important today than it was in the past to project a credible and clear identity in all contexts in which it is working.